Pittsfield Commission on Disabilities seeks to reserve handicapped parking fines for access issues

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PITTSFIELD — Cracked curb cuts can flip a wheelchair, say members of the city's Commission on Disabilities, and so it's important they don't fall by the wayside.

June Hailer, commission chariwoman, said in previous years the city set aside money for improvements requested by the commission. But the money stopped coming during this fiscal year, she said, and there's no return in sight.

That's why she's asking the City Council to establish a separate account, populated by revenues from handicapped parking violations, to fund requests made by the commission. The City Council Ordinances and Rules Committee voted unanimously to recommend the move to the full council, which will take it up during its meeting on Tuesday.

"It's for the benefit of the population at large," Hailer told councilors.

Hailer pointed to attempts to get a signal at the four-way intersection where East meets Elm and 4th streets as an example of one of the commission's requests.

"It's a safety issue," she said. "Kids cross there all the time."

During the last fiscal year, the city raised $40,000 in handicapped parking fines, a sharp increase from the previous year, during which it raised $14,875. Finance Director Matt Kerwood said the spike likely stems from increased enforcement. Each ticket costs $200, he said.

While Hailer is requesting 100 percent of the annual handicapped fines be used for commission requests, Kerwood said officials would need to negotiate an appropriate split. The state law that allows for the separate line item doesn't offer guidance, he said.

"The statute is silent on that," he said.

Commissioner Pat Sheely, who uses a motorized wheelchair, pointed out a few problem areas around City Hall and the Pittsfield Post Office that pose challenges for people on wheels. She said a mangled curb cut — the sloped edge of a curb that feeds crosswalks — forces her to scoot out into the road to avoid tipping her chair.

She said there are many deteriorated curb cuts around the city.

"You can see they throw down asphalt," she said, pointing to a bumpy pile of layered asphalt along Fenn Street that covers a curb cut with large gaps in it. "They have a list a mile long."

Sheely said she understands money is tight, but still "it's important that these things get repaired."

Public Services Commissioner David Turocy said it all comes down to money, and often it makes more sense to replace a whole sidewalk rather than repair one crumbling curb cut.

"We haven't had a dedicated funding source," he said. "That whole sidewalk in front of City Hall needs to be done."

Turocy said the city's newly formed Complete Streets Committee, of which Hailer is a member, will soon draft a plan prioritizing street issues. The plan will be used to apply for a Complete Streets grant from the state, which could yield up to $400,000 a year in street-level improvements.

Meantime, members of the Commission on Disabilities are growing impatient.

"I'm tired of waiting," Hailer said, citing the cracked curb cut outside City Hall that catches her wheel. "We've been trying to get that done for over three years."

Reach Amanda Drane at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.


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